Saturday, March 31, 2012

Solitary Confinement

You know those films where the innocent prisoner is condemned to solitary confinement? There’s a part of me that has always thought, Really? That wouldn’t be so bad if they let have paper and pencils.

Of course, I’m fully aware it’s a horrible punishment in reality, but the desire to hole up by myself for long periods of time has always appealed; or perhaps indulge in enforced silence, like practiced in monasteries and convents. Again, this fantasy only works for me if I’ve been given a means to write.

In effect, I’ve created that environment for myself, except that I can escape at will. I excitedly bought an RV, moved out of a three bedroom house, sold all the stuff I’d accumulated over many years, traveled to Sacramento from Phoenix, found a tiny mobile home park and settled in. That was four years ago.

I don’t have a television by choice. I do have a radio, which I listen to incessantly and a personal DVD player for the legions of DVDs I borrow from the library. The rest of my isolated existence is spent reading and writing.

And this from a woman who is an acknowledged “people person” and practicing extrovert. The thing is that while I love people; it is primarily in short stints. I like connecting in a personal interview. The best part of being a cab driver for a year was the short, intense relationships that cropped up as I drove my fare from a home or hotel to the airport. It was just enough time to spark some fascinating conversations.

At a party or family gathering, I’m only good for about two hours. Then I begin to yearn for solitude and quiet. Now, in the third act of my life, I am engaged in peaceful contemplation and relating the stories that have been rolling around in my head for lo these many years.

My soul is grateful for my self-imposed solitary endeavors.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Here's the Thing

Today, I reacted like many bloggers would and felt so badly that a good friend of mine felt attacked, that I nearly caved. I nearly took my post down. That would have been a very bad thing.

I forgot where I came from and what I know. I let my feelings get into the game. Some of you know I’m a former journalist and newspaper editor. What I’ve not said online yet, is that I’ve won awards for both my investigative journalism and my editorials, from the Arizona Newspaper Association and the Arizona Chapter of the National Press Women. Why is that important? Here’s why:

I wrote a blog post – Wait, Wait, Wait, - in exactly the correct editorial format. Unlike other forms of journalism, which require complete impartiality and no usage of slanted words or expression of opinion – an editorial is supposed to present a point of view, elicit emotions, and hopefully sway opinions. It is also supposed to state facts and provide references for the reader.

When I presented the blog posts of Rob Guthrie (someone I consider a friend and I highly respect), and the comments made on them by others, as a starting point for my post (editorial) he took that personally. It wasn’t intended that way, and frankly, if I’d started out with “some people think” I wouldn’t have been effective or correct.

In my summation, which referred to a possible assessment team for the worth of writers before they could be published on Amazon, I was attempting to elicit emotions and sway opinions, very definitely. Not, however, in the way it turned out. This was not a reference to Rob, as a person or member of the Indie author community.

Why did I feel a need to come back to this? For two reasons, the first being to regain my self-respect and secondly, to clarify what this was all about.

It is very tough to write about important things. You must develop a thick skin and be willing to ward off personal attacks, because they will come. I know from experience. I’ve lost my edge, obviously, and have actually chosen not to write about controversial subjects, because having my motives questioned and assaulted for two years wore me out. I also prefer to live in the light – enjoying the happy times – writing stories I hope will encourage, inspire and make people laugh.

Because, I don’t want to return to this subject over and over, I’m going to go into one more aspect of this whole argument over whether Indie writers should be subjected to a review of some sort. Let me say here, that I do not consider myself a great writer. At best, I’m decent and a fairly good storyteller (a different question, altogether). I could very well be one of the people not to make it past such a review.

I have read comments in favor of instituting a process like this from writers, who would themselves suffer from such an inspection. I don’t think anyone has honestly addressed this. One very adamant proponent wrote one of the first books I ever bought for my Kindle. It was so atrocious I couldn’t get past the first five pages. A prominent writer, who has wisely stayed out of the fray, suffered from bad formatting until someone pointed it out to her. So did I, until a very kind Twitter friend, gave me the heads up.

This whole thing is still a learning process. It really is. I’m still having trouble navigating it, aren’t you? If you’ve got it completely licked, I salute you.

That’s it. No more diatribes from me, and it will probably be a long time before I test the toughness of my hide again. I don’t like it here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Wait, Wait, Wait...

Independent author Rob Guthrie touched off a huge heated debate a little while ago on his blog, suggesting that Amazon charge a fee for publishing online, then fired the passions of primarily Indie authors again with two subsequent posts, Does Everyone Have a Novel in Them? and Does Talent Exist?

I’ve been reading his posts and those of others, either in agreement or with opposing viewpoints. There were many good points in both Rob's original posts and the comments and fallout. I’m sincere in my desire to be respectful of everyone’s thoughts on the subject of whether or not untalented (or perhaps unskilled at present) writers should be allowed to publish their books, and charge the public money to read them, because I know they are heartfelt.

However, in all the hashing and rehashing of the subject, one very simple fact seems to have been lost. There have always been crappy books published, way before online publishing was even a germinating thought, and lots of money made on them. I can go to a used book sale and pull them off the shelves by the hundreds. Yet, someone originally bought the wretched things and they appear to have been read.

The same is true of movies (case in point John Carter), paintings, plays, and then lots of everyday products we all consume regularly. For instance, nearly all the fast food factories (restaurants, technically) we are surrounded by offer less than acceptable fare to a gourmand. Still, even the regulatory agencies, like the FDA, are only charged with making sure what we consume won’t harm us, not that it’s good for us.

I'm not a free market freak but this country generally speaking supports it and why should that not extend to online books? If someone wants to buy a book that others consider poorly written, who are we to impede their desire? We don’t try to put a stop to erotica, or porn, and those areas are certainly "quality writing" challenged.

Simply put, I don’t think there should be either a judging system put in place nor a tariff (publishing fee) imposed to stop the “bad writing” from hitting the marketplace, because it would be, in effect, censorship.

One more quick thought; I believe the reason this has been such an ardently followed subject is that it hits a little too close to home. Most of us, Indie authors, have struggled for years to get published, and in that cause have had to believe in ourselves against all odds. Now, to be told we may not be good enough again, well…

(Published on Red Mojo Mama Musings as well)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Language Changes

I have a problem. There are times when I really just can’t use proper grammar, because I cannot have someone say something people don’t say in real life. Or think it.

Here’s an example. Whom. No one says 'whom' anymore except English professors.

I’m a firm believer that a character needs to think and speak as she would in real life. Otherwise, she (or he) becomes unbelievable. The reader loses faith in their reality. The writer gives up that precious commodity – suspension of disbelief. The minute the wrong word comes out of your heroine’s mouth, a part of the story crumbles away, like the face of a glacier as it melts.

Unless I have a scholarly character that actually would say ‘whom’, I cannot and will not force the correct grammar on my fictional people.

My consolation is that language does, indeed, change. This was re-enforced as I worked my way through Jane Austen’s novel and found several archaic spellings for words we still use today, but spell differently. ‘Chuse’ is that one I noticed most often, which would be ‘choose’ today.

I was told by one of my grade-school teachers that the word ‘develop’ didn’t have an 'e' on the end, even though the old dictionary my parents had said it did. I brought it to school to prove it and she calmly explained that wasn’t the way it was spelled any more. It struck me then, at about ten years old, that words and how we use them could change at any time.

I watched fascinated as a youngster by words that would suddenly be included in the dictionary, like ‘A-okay’, which came into being with space exploration and was absolutely verboten in a class paper as slang until Webster’s included it as a bona fide word.

So, as ‘google’ becomes an accepted verb, I fully expect 'whom' to disappear all together, as it vanishes from our daily speech, along with many other words. I don’t mourn their passing at all, because I know we’ll add hundreds, even thousands, of others as time passes and long before I finish up as a writer.

Say hello to ‘skype’ for me!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Jane Austen Quest

A few weeks ago, I decided to read all of Jane Austen’s novels. I didn’t remember ever reading any of them in high school or college and now that I’ve finished my quest, I’m sure I’ve never read a Jane Austen novel before.

Why? Well, her writing is so distinctive and frankly, the stories so ingratiating that I couldn’t possibly have forgotten any one of them if I had already read them.

I came away with a slightly different take than what I’ve heard from others – particularly those saying how much they loved her novels. While I really think she was a genius, especially in capturing the subtle inferences the people of her time took away from the most minute of daily interactions, I had a hard time with Emma, until I realized that she was being sarcastic and then Mansfield Park, because I had such a hard time liking Fanny. In both instances, I really didn’t care for the heroine until at least halfway through the novel.

However, I didn’t put my Kindle down, even when I was struggling, again because she was such a great chronicler of thoughts, peeling away with the greatest care and enormous effort each thin layer of what makes up an opinion or feeling. As ridiculous as the lifestyles and concerns of that time seem now, the emotions and way of extracting what we think out of all the input we experience everyday remains the same. We may be seem to be more open now but when it comes to protecting ourselves, I think, in general, people still measure the reactions of others with extreme caution before making their own moves.

Reading her novels told me that people are people. We evolve very, very slowly, it seems.

I was also struck by her fascination, which I assume was the fashion of the day, with carriages. If you read her novels, you can’t help but notice that what type of carriage you had and how many horses to pull it mattered a great deal – much like our society’s reverence for cars and their implied status.

If you haven’t already read the entire Jane Austen library, I would suggest you add it to your bucket list. My favorite is Persuasion.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Terrible Titles

First, let me admit that I called this post Terrible Titles to catch your attention. It’s not really about ALL terrible titles. It’s about terrible blog post titles, in specific. However, calling it Terrible Blog and Post Titles doesn’t sound as good or grab the reader’s attention as well as Terrible Titles – so, of course, it won out.

And that’s how it works. Choosing a title for a blog post is exactly the same as writing a headline for a newspaper. The object is to get the reader to stop and read the article, not to tell the reader what the story is about, except in a very general way.

As many of you know, I recently published Blog & Tweet, an informal guide to blogging and tweeting. I’m noting several things I missed for what may turn out to be Volume Two and this subject is definitely going to be the first subject.

I see titles for blog posts everyday that just make me cringe. About 50% of them are too long, tell too much, don’t tell enough, have too many hashtags in them, have the same title over and over with only a number change, etc.

Remember to keep it simple and catchy. Don’t clutter it up. Don’t repeat the title (the reader becomes immune to your blog this way). Don’t tell them too much. If it’s not something of interest to them, force them to your page to find out. That may sound tough-minded and that’s because it is. You have to think like a newspaper editor on this one. “How do I get them to buy the paper?” The answer is: With great headlines and an eye-catching front page. “How to I keep them buying the newspaper?” And the answer is…with great content.

So, here are a few examples of great blog post titles from this week alone. Each one makes you wonder what’s inside the box.

life in the fish bowl by Erica Lucke

The Sleeper Awakens by Jack Durkish

The Importance of Thumbs by Gilly Fraser

The Girls’ Guide to Dating Zombies by Frederick Lee

Blog titles are similar. The difference is that the title of your blog is going to stay with you a long time. Choose carefully. Make sure it reflects what you have to say or the character of what you think your posts will be about. If you don’t know yet, then pick something catchy but all encompassing.

Okay, I’m off my soapbox.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Reading Myself

As I’m working on Red is an Attitude, I’m re-reading the first in the series, Red Mojo Mama. Oh what fun I’m having!

It is absolutely great how after a year, I’ve forgotten so much of the story. Oh, not the basics, but all the little characterizations of those who people Red’s life and the details for the village of Nuggetville, where the novel is set.

I’m sure all writers experience the wonderful joy of reading something they particularly like and realizing that – yes, they did it. They created this thing and being enthralled with the tale all over again. Reliving a life you built within your mind and crafted so lovingly has got to be one of the all-time thrills in this life.

I’m really ecstatic about this one because I’ve had such fun with Red, my main character, in the other blog I write – Red Mojo Mama Musings. As some of you will know, we have bantering conversations with each other and she is as real to me as my own sisters.

Of course, I stumble upon things I could have written better, realize it and wish I’d seen the possibilities at the time. But mostly, I’m happy with it. It isn’t great literature. It wasn’t meant to be. But there is a moral backbone to the story and a heroine I admire. Oh, that there was a real Lydia “Red” Talbot! (Sorry, I sound a bit like Jane Austen there – you’ll see why soon).

I have the sequel largely completed but I have a few remaining chapters and the polish to do. I like Red in this novel just as much, but the fun in this one is that she’s gotten her mojo back and she’s pretty much hell on wheels.

I’m on a Jane Austen kick as well and have read four of her novels within a couple of weeks. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a heroine so adored as hers have been for so many years. However, I have the small satisfaction of a few people who have read RMM and loved Red.

For that, I will always be grateful.